“Upward of 50 percent of what we buy in a supermarket we had no intention of buying”
— psychologist Underhill.
If you want to become a smarter shopper, you need to know all the ways grocery stores are secretly (and not-so-secretly) manipulating you into buying more than you need.
Reading through these “Grocery Store Confessions” arms you against their tricks, ultimately equipping you with the tools you need to protect yourself from mass manipulation.
Ready to see all the ways grocery stores confess to manipulating you?
1. Big margin product pairings.
What this aisle says: if you need chips, you need salsa, too. May as well buy them together…in bulk quantities.
2. Putting fresh goods at the front of the store.
The fresh smell of baking bread alone is enough to get you tossing away that perfectly planned list. Thus, the sensory overload that hits you upon entering a grocery store is very much intentional: it makes you salivate and feel hungry, meaning you may end up buying more than you intended.
3. Hanging wobbly signs.
These signs are designed to redirect our attention to where the store owners want us to look.
4. Placing popular items in the middle of aisles.
Supermarkets place popular items in the middle of the store in the middle of the aisles because they know you’ll take the trip down to get them. While you’re walking or wheeling through, you’ll also be exposed to a lot of other unpopular grocery items you might have otherwise never noticed. The possibility of purchasing an item you didn’t intend to increases exponentially.
5. Switching the store’s layout.
Have you ever wondered why grocery stores can’t seem to figure out where they actually want their products? Do you find yourself searching for something you swore was right there last week? Yeah, they move products around on purpose to prevent you from developing a weekly route and avoiding other products. So you see, it’s not so odd why this week there’s super-expensive gluten-free cookies where there used to be soup.
6. Highlighting items to increase their sales.
What you can’t see, you can’t overindulge in, right? Marketing and Design Editor Jim George explains that “[a]n in-aisle display and the right product messaging can significantly increase brand and category sales and influence brand conversion.”
7. Putting cow’s milk–the number one most-bought item in grocery stores–at the very back.
If milk is on your list, you’re heading to the back of the store regardless of whether of not you want to. So you should probably just grab a few others things, right? I mean, you’d basically be wasting time at the store if you didn’t, right?
8. Placing the most profitable items at adult eye level.
9. Using cereal boxes to lure in children.
No, you’re not seeing things: that Captain really is creating brand loyalty by looking directly into the eyes of that young boy.
10. Promoting sales that are hardly sales at all.
Large sales signs that only apply to limited items, sales for bulk buys only, mere cents off when you purchase 10…these are the tricks to watch out for. They encourage bulk buying that you may or may not need to participate in. Ask yourself: if it wasn’t on sale, would I still buy it?
11. Misting produce.
We all know consistently misting produce speeds up its rotting, so why do grocery stores insist on doing it? The sad truth: people really like shiny things; we’re more likely to buy produce after it has been misted.
12. Free samples.
If you think of free samples as perks of shopping at your store, my apologies. These samples are actually calculated to get you to slow down, spend more time in the store, purchase a new product and stimulate your appetite.
13. Tracking consumer spending through discount cards.
Discount cards serve a dual purpose for grocery stores. They make the customer feel appreciated, but more importantly to the store owners, discount cards also track consumer spending habits. This makes further manipulations through product placement and more that much easier.
14. Intentionally having bumpier and tackier floor surfaces in less popular aisles.
The obstacles literally slow us down in these aisles, making sure we at least get one opportunity to purchase the unwanted goods.
15. Lighting the produce aisle perfectly to encourage spending.
Do you ever wonder why your motivation to sauté artichoke hearts or try endive for the first time plummets when you leave the store? It’s all in the lighting.
16. Making shopping carts bigger than before.
The size of your shopping cart plays a large roll in how much you purchase. Experts found that doubling the size of the cart can increase sales by up to 19 percent.
17. Placing produce at the front of the store.
Produce’s bright colors have the power to boost shopper’s moods. According to grocery expert Phil Lempert, this “inspire[s] you to buy more.”
18. Playing music that makes us spend 29 percent more.
Slow music = slow shoppers = more time to be influenced into buying things we don’t need.
19. Tempting us with checkout aisles.
It’s not a coincidence your checkout experience oftentimes includes “remembering” you really need gum, chocolate or candy. Tricky, tricky.